MANCHESTER // Officials were once again at the centre of controversy in this Ashes series when they took the players off the field for bad light on the fourth day of the third Test at Old Trafford.
Australia, 2-0 down in the five-match series and needing to win this match to stand any chance of regaining the Ashes, were 172 for seven in their second innings – a lead of 331 runs – when umpires Marais Erasmus and Tony Hill called a halt at 4.26pm local time (7.26pm UAE) on Sunday.
Subsequent rain prevented the match resuming and play was officially abandoned at 5.38pm, with officials – much criticised for their implementation of the Decision Review System this series – coming under scrutiny again.
Australia captain Michael Clarke, 30 not out, was clearly furious at being told to go off for bad light in a situation where any stoppage increased England's chances of securing the draw that would see them retain the Ashes.
Although the floodlights were on, the umpires decided conditions were too dangerous to continue when it looked as if fast-medium bowler Stuart Broad was about to be brought back into the attack.
It used to be the case the umpires would "offer" the light to the batsmen to see if they wanted to continue or not.
But a change to the regulations in October 2010 left the issue solely in the hands of the umpires after concerns had been raised the old system was unfair to the fielding side.
"The playing conditions changed a few years ago so it's now our decision," said Erasmus, whose joint interview with Hill on Sky television was booed by angry fans when replayed over the giant screens at Old Trafford. "For a while there England's fielders were asking about the light and the possibility when they bat.
"It was fine by then but it kept dropping, dropping, dropping.
"Eventually we asked the captain [Alastair Cook] to bowl spin which eventually he decided not to. That pushed our hand because it's a safety issue."
Clarke had a prolonged conversation with South African official Erasmus as he and batting partner Ryan Harris stayed in the middle while England walked off.
Eventually, the Australians trudged off the field.
"The umpires have control over that now. They deemed it dangerous and we just had to come off and respect their decision," said Australia's David Warner, earlier out for 41. "Obviously Michael was a little bit annoyed with that but he felt it [the light] didn't change in that last half an hour. The umpires seemed to say it did. We now have to come out tomorrow and take the wickets and hopefully we can make it 2-1."
England will have to rewrite the record books if they are to force an unlikely victory as the most any side have made to win in the fourth innings of an Old Trafford Test is their own 294 for four against New Zealand in 2008.
More realistically, they will have to likely bat for all today's play, weather permitting, to force a draw.
"We know where we're at in this game, we need to come back and fight hard for the draw," said England wicketkeeper Matt Prior, who earlier on Sunday helped the hosts avoid the follow-on in partnership with Broad. "Coming off I suppose was good for us, the umpires make the decisions we just do what we're told. As long as the [Ashes] urn is sitting up in the [England] dressing room I don't care how it gets there."
England avoided the follow-on after resuming on 294 for seven following Kevin Pietersen's impressive 113 on Saturday.
They needed 34 runs to make Australia bat again and the eighth wicket duo of Prior (30) and Broad (32) knocked them off during an eighth-wicket stand of 58.
The pair then combined to remove Australia opener Chris Rogers when Broad took the outside edge and Prior held a good catch.
Renowned one-day batsman Warner, repeatedly booed by home fans after missing the first two Tests for his barroom attack on England's Joe Root, was promoted to open alongside Rogers as Australia sought quick runs. Warner made 41 off 57 balls before he was caught in the deep by Root off seamer Tim Bresnan before Usman Khawaja (24) was bowled round his legs by off-spinner Graeme Swann.
Regular opener Shane Watson then uppercut Bresnan straight to Pietersen at third man before a mix-up saw Steven Smith run out for 19 after he'd driven both Bresnan and Swann for six.
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